Horizontal transmission of insect viruses is a key factor in their cycling in agroecosystems. Here we study the transmission of the baculovirus HaSNPV among larvae of Helicoverpa armigera (Hübner) in cotton. Transmission of three HaSNPV genotypes was studied from larvae infected with a single virus genotype and from larvae infected with two different genotypes. Genotypes included a wild-type virus, an ecdysteroid UDP-glucosyltransferase (egt) deletion mutant (HaSNPV-LM2) with slightly enhanced speed of kill, and an egt-negative genotype that expresses a neurotoxin gene derived from the scorpion Androctonus australis Hector (HaSNPV-4A). The latter genotype has a substantially increased speed of kill. In three field experiments, the wild-type and egt deletion virus variants and a mixture of the two had similar rates of transmission. Transmission increased with density of infector insects and decreased with time lapsed since the inoculation of the infector larvae. Transmission of the neurotoxin expressing virus was lower than that of the other two genotypes in a glasshouse experiment. The studied genotypes of HaSNPV have significant differences in time to kill and virus yield, but we found no significant differences in rates of virus transmission at the crop level in the case of the egt deletion variant HaSNPV-LM2. Transmission of the transgenic virus genotype HaSNPV-4A was significantly reduced. Overall, differences in transmission between virus genotypes were subtler, and more difficult to detect with statistical significance, than effects of other factors, such as density of infectors and time delay between release of infectors and recipient caterpillars on the plant.
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